Nearly nine years after an explosion in New Zealand’s Pike River Mine killed 29 mine, recovery crews entered the mine again for the first time. The crews will attempt to recover the bodies of the 29 miners lost in the explosion and will search for clues to what caused the explosion.
The families of those killed were invited to a private event on Tuesday morning at the site on the South Island’s west coast to watch three experienced miners breach a concrete seal at the mine’s opening, enter and begin the $36 million operation to find the bodies and work out what caused the explosion.
New Zealand Prime minister Jacinda Ardern said the re-entry would be a “symbolic moment” that would mark the start of an operation that could take “a number of weeks and months.” She has refused to specify when it would happen, preferring it to be kept between the families and the agency handling the operation. She said she would not attend the private event.
The Guardian reported that an earlier attempt, on 2 May, was a much more public affair but had to be called off at the last minute after inexplicably high oxygen levels were discovered in the mine. Minister Andrew Little said the presence of oxygen in a methane-producing environment carried the risk of explosion. The reason for the oxygen readings has since been pinned down to a leaking sample tube.
The fatal explosion on Nov. 19, 2010 has hung over the local community and grieving families seeking closure ever since the site was sealed off. It was the worst mine disaster in the country since 1914.
Dave Gawnm the chief executive of the Pike river recovery agency, said they had completed preparations for the re-entry, including cutting through the concrete seal and ventilating the mine drift, or passageway.
Pike River Minister Andrew Little said there was still much to do while praising the families’ “tireless efforts” in their efforts for justice.
“New Zealand is not a country where 29 people can die at work without real accountability. That is not who we are. And that is why today we have fulfilled our promise.
“Today’s milestone belongs to the families and to the memory of their men. It also belongs to all New Zealanders, who know that going home to your loved ones is the least you should expect after a day’s work,” he said.
Public pressure to launch an underground recovery mission has been intense since day one, spurred on by the astonishing rescue of 33 Chilean miners a few months before the explosion. But the John Key’s National government refused to budge, saying the mission was too complex and risky.
As part of her 2017 election bid, Ardern promised to re-enter the mine, with no less than two government ministers offering to be the first to set foot inside.